“Yet now, if Thou wilt forgive their sin; and if not, blot me, I pray Thee, out of Thy book which Thou hast written.’” – Exodus 32:32, JPS 1917 Tanach
“Moses refers to the ‘Book of life’ in which every human being is inscribed on Rosh Hashanah if he was found deserving on the basis of his past record.” – Chizkuni on Exodus 32:32; sefaria.org
After the debacle of the golden calf, Moses pleaded with H’Shem on behalf of B’nei yisrael, saying, “Alas, this people is guilty of a great sin in making for themselves a god of gold” (32:31, JPS). In asking of H’Shem to forgive the sin of the people, Moses offers to have his name written out of the Book of Life. This is an unmistakable gesture of mesiras hanefesh (self-sacrifice), that Moshe offers on behalf of B’nei Yisrael. Yet, G-d declines the offer, stating in what appears to be an impromptu decree for the ages: “He who has sinned against Me, him only will I erase from My record” (Exodus 32:33, JPS).
Nevertheless, the immediate punishment, concerning H’Shem’s intent to destroy this generation, and start over again with Moses had already been averted through Moshe’s prayer. Now, forgiveness does not seem to be sanctioned; rather, a newly mentioned punishment is delayed, “when I make an accounting, I will bring them to account for their sins.” (Exodus 33:34, JPS). After this statement, the Torah records that a plague is sent amongst the people. So, the question remains, when will H’Shem make an accounting, thereby bringing them to account for their sins? The question continues to ring, like a bell of proclamation.